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Reaction to New Congress and New Iraq Policy

The international media are reacting with interest to the new Democratic Congress and the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, but with skepticism to President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq. The President has called for an increase of more than 20,000 American troops, but Congressional Democrats are signaling that they will oppose his plan. Mr. Bush’s new strategy also includes a $1 billion economic package for Iraq as well as benchmarks for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Much of the media reaction in Europe has been positive toward the new Congress, but skeptical toward the President’s plan to win the war in Iraq by increasing U.S. troop levels. Philippe Gelie, U.S. bureau chief for Le Figaro, says people in France see the new Democratic-led Congress primarily as a new counterweight for President Bush’s tendency to “stay the course” in Iraq. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Gelie notes that it will take “a lot of political courage” to force the President to change the course.

But Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with Al-Arabiya television, says people in the Arab world believe that – with a new Democratic Congress – President Bush will no longer have carte blanche in Iraq. However, she doubts that Congress will be able to alter the new Iraq strategy because ultimately it is the President who makes foreign policy decisions. Nonetheless, people in the Arab world welcome the questioning of U.S. policy in Iraq and many are pleased that the House of Representatives will be led by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman in U.S. history to be chosen Speaker.

Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says people in Germany seriously question whether the new Congress can dramatically change the course of Iraq policy. But they are “quite amazed” that, contrary to the strong signal that the November mid-terms elections would be the “beginning of the end of the war in Iraq,” President Bush has announced that there will be a “surge” of U.S. troops rather than a gradual withdrawal. Mr. Rueb says most Germans view the war in Iraq as a “lost cause” and think President Bush is now trying to “delay the inevitable.”

U.S. editor of The Times of London Gerard Baker says the British are also “surprised” that President Bush would decide to increase U.S. troop levels after the results of the mid-term elections. And he notes that the British government earlier endorsed the report of the Iraq Study Group calling for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, “diplomatic engagement” with Iran and Syria, and “further progress” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Baker says that, although there was probably “some disappointment” that President Bush argely ignored those recommendations, the official reaction of the British government was “fully supportive” of the new policy.

Nadia Bilbassy says most people in the Arab world doubt that “fixing Iraq” is even possible at this stage. Although more U.S. troops might temporarily change the level of violence in Baghdad, she says, the surge will not help in the long term. Ms. Bilbassy says people welcome the U.S. offer of $1 billion to revitalize the Iraqi economy, but she warns that objective cannot be achieved without security. People are also pleased, she says, with the appointment of veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and she notes that he is fluent in Arabic and has previously served as ambassador to several other Arab countries. But, Nadia Bilbassy says, most people doubt the Bush administration will be able to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which they believe is key to progress in the Middle East.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.